Exceptional EA showcases Real Careers, in which administrators from around the globe generously share the benefit of their experience. We’ve made virtual trips to Belgium, Brazil, Canada, England, Germany, Mauritius, the Netherlands, Northern Ireland, Norway, Republic of Ireland, Scotland, South Africa, the USA and Wales, and now make our way to Teignmouth, near Exeter, England to visit with Kim Glover.
A Networked Assistant
How does a typical day start? It really depends. I attend quite a few breakfast events – either networking events hosted by others, or our Exeter PA Network monthly breakfast events, which start at around 7:00 a.m. I also have some early morning meetings, such as our monthly Executive Board meeting, which starts at 8.00 a.m. Alternatively, if I’m visiting one of our offices in either Bristol or London, that will mean a 7:30 train. On those mornings, it tends to be a quick hop straight from bed to shower and out the door. Otherwise, it’s a review of emails and Twitter, followed by a coffee and watching the news before hitting the shower.
My commute is about 20 minutes, and I drive as public transport would take me about an hour and cost a fortune. It can be quicker if I’m really late – which I often am; I was born late! I once tried telling my boss that my being late was a good thing, as it showed my optimistic disposition – always thinking it will take me less time to get there than it does. There wasn’t much he could say to that! I also told him I could make up for being late by leaving early. Good job he has a sense of humour!
At the Office
Morning Routines: The first thing I do is log on and set my daily voicemail greeting. Then I make the Boss and I a coffee and we quickly run through any updates from meetings he’s attended or emails that have come in, and we agree on the top priorities for the day. I keep a task list for both of us, and we tend to set between three and six key things which absolutely have to be done that day no matter what.
Primary Responsibilities: As well as providing executive assistant support to my Boss, I provide secretarial support to our Executive Board, and play an active role in strategic projects, as directed by my Boss as Managing Partner or our Executive Board; a recent example being supporting my Boss in launching the first wholly Chinese owned UK regulated law firm, YangTze Law, which is very exciting. There are ambitious plans for growth for YangTze Law, and I will be involved in this.
I attend a lot of meetings alongside my Boss, so that I have a good understanding of his priorities and agreed actions, and generally act as a conduit for information flow between key stakeholders.
A typical day includes a lot of coffee, lots of checking in with the Boss to understand if any action points have arisen out of the meetings he has attended, lots of chasing him to complete tasks, checking whether the priorities for the day have changed, and it might include a meeting or two for me as well.
How long is your work day? Every day is different. Today I’ve been in London, catching the 7:30 a.m. train, and will get back to the train station at 6.45 p.m. Tomorrow will more than likely be 9:00 a.m. to 5:30 p.m., but next week I know I have two late nights – one at a social media café, and the other will be for a Partner meeting, which will end at around 8:00.
What might be a typical lunch? We’re really lucky and have an on-site café, which serves hot and cold food, so I’m spoilt for choice. It means we can grab and go (back to desk!). Our offices are blessed with break-out areas, patios, and a roof terrace to choose from, and we are surrounded by fields. However, sometimes a colleague and I will pop to a local café or pub for lunch to get away from the office for a period.
Do you work from home in your “off” hours, or during your commute? Yes, I’m constantly checking emails. Very occasionally I will log on remotely to work on a document or send some emails out of hours, and I suspect this will become more usual as our international client base expands. As I have remote access, I can work from home on the odd occasion – perhaps if the Boss is travelling and I have lots of minutes to type up.
Dealing with Challenges
What is the most challenging aspect of your day or career? There are a couple of aspects which can be challenging on a daily basis, one of which is managing the workload and avoiding being too distracted by the massive time thief that is social media! The other is keeping spirits (mine and those of the Boss) up when the pressure of work is intense and seemingly relentless. When it’s like that, it sometimes helps to just quickly sum up what we’ve achieved that day and congratulate ourselves on a positive and productive day. We all like to be told we’re doing a good job – but who tells the Boss at the top that they’ve had a great day and done really well? I think we, as their assistants, can do that – and it does help!
A challenge around my career would be the perception of the role of an Assistant. My Boss is great, and he really values me and my role. He involves me and recognises my abilities. The challenge is around others, within and outside the business, who don’t understand the level of my involvement in management matters. Fortunately, we are now at a stage where there is massive momentum within the profession to change these perceptions, and I feel there is real traction and it is having a very positive effect.
I attend a lot of meetings alongside my Boss … and generally act as a conduit for information flow between key stakeholders
What do you most enjoy about your career? The really great relationship I have with my Boss – who is just incredible. He is so clever and inspiring. He challenges me, and supports me in my development. We’ve been working together for nearly 20 years now – I’m so lucky.
On Saying “No”
Don’t you find, because you’re good at your job, everyone asks you do stuff for them all the time? They do so because they know you can be relied upon to a) get it done and b) do a great job. That being the case, you have to say no sometimes – there are only so many hours in the day. Whilst there are times when you have to flex and really pull out all the stops – working crazy hours and delivering a massive workload – that’s not sustainable long term. And what good is a burnt-out Assistant to their boss? Our bosses depend on us being there, delivering a consistent service, and to do that we need to stay healthy by managing our workloads and stress levels.
What good is a burnt-out Assistant to their boss?
I was born in Exeter, in Devon (UK). I spent a brief spell as a child in the Middle East (in Bahrain) before coming back to Exeter. I now live in Teignmouth, which is a seaside town about 17 miles from Exeter.
I love to be by the coast, and I love that Teignmouth is such a relaxed, small town, but still within easy reach of cities such as Exeter or Plymouth (or even Bristol – which is only about an hour’s train journey away).
Time outside the office is spent either walking the dogs (you might have seen one of them in the #DebsDrawers challenge), watching movies (we have a cinema room at home as my other half loves movies) or in the pub with friends.
How do you pamper or reward yourself after a tough day or week? Wine! A lot of wine. Or cocktails.
Join a network; identify a mentor
Education and Professional Development
Education: I undertook a year long secretarial diploma at the very start of my career, which stood me in good stead. Michelmores have always been very good at supporting professional development, and I’ve attended numerous courses and conferences over my career with them. Whilst my role is now to support my Boss on a 1:1 basis, previously, as part of a dual role, I headed up our professional support team, where I line-managed our team of Support Team Leaders across our departments and offices, leading a team of 80 PAs, alongside supporting my Boss. This role, as I’m sure you can imagine, taught me a lot.
Preferred form(s) of social media? I prefer Twitter, and also use LinkedIn. I’ve yet to try Facebook, but the Network is about to launch a Facebook page, so no doubt I will soon be up to speed!
What might we find in your desk drawer? Ha! You’ve seen my desk drawer on Twitter already – it’s quite messy, and filled with all the essentials – chocolate, gin, toiletries, shoes – and Yasmin (at left).
Travel or travel planning advice? My advice would be to walk the journey through in your head, step by step, thinking, “What would I need if it was me travelling and I was at ‘x’?” That way, you should ensure you cover everything.
There are also some really great travel apps. We use TripItPro – the Boss loves it!
We are now at a stage where there is massive momentum within the profession to change perceptions
Role models or mentors? My Boss, of course, for the reasons set out above. But, I think meeting Christine Henshall-Hill, founder of the Plymouth PA Network and then Debs Eden (who you all know well!) was when things really took off for me in terms of pushing my career and professional development forward. I owe them both a massive thank you (and a glass of wine). Also, the energy and commitment of Victoria Darragh to the profession is very inspiring.
Tell us about a career accomplishment of which you’re particularly proud. Leading the Exeter PA Network has to be up there. That, and the amazing job I did mentoring and developing the oh so awesome Rebecca Eccles, my colleague and co-organiser of the Network. Rebecca was runner up for Newcomer of the Year in the Executive PA Magazine PA of the Year Awards in 2014, after only a year in a PA role. I take all the credit, of course (*giggles*).
Do you have any career goals or accomplishments on your radar for the next five years? The next five years are going to be a really interesting and potentially exciting time. The growth and future direction of YangTze could impact my role, and take me who knows where. Also, my Boss is likely to retire in five years’ time, so there will be big changes for me.
Understand whether your organisation has a competency matrix in place for your role, to highlight steps needed to progress to the next level
Your most effective time management strategy? Making a list of everything I need to get done that day. I’m a terrible procrastinator, and I need a bit of pressure to be really effective, so a tight deadline always focuses the mind.
Agree with your boss on objectives to progress to the next level, and on support to achieve those objectives
Advice for a new mother working to the workplace? I’m not a mum myself, so it’s difficult for me to offer advice. However, some friends of mine have been really successful in returning to the workplace following mat leave because they maintained their networks, attended networking events, and used LinkedIn and other resources (magazines) to ensure they kept up to date whilst away from the workplace.
Advice for new executives on how to best work with an assistant: Invest time and effort in developing the relationship. If you’re lucky, your assistant could support you your whole career. Treat your Assistant as your business partner – the two of you are a team – and share information about the work you are doing, what you want to achieve, and how s/he can support you in it.
Executives: Treat your Assistant as your business partner
Support your Assistant’s development – the better they are, they better they will make you. It’s give and take: I remember very early on working with my Boss, my mum had a really nasty accident when I met her for lunch, and I had to phone in to say I had to go with her to hospital. My Boss was amazing. He told me to take the time I needed to make sure mum was okay, and even though I had to take a week and hadn’t been with him very long, there were no pay deductions and I didn’t have to make up the time. He showed sincere concern for me and for my mum, and just wanted to support me at a very difficult time. This kindness forged a loyalty which has meant I would do whatever, whenever for him throughout our time working together, and would never treat working with him as just a job.
What insight or advice would you offer an assistant who is interested in career growth/promotion? Join a network. Identify a mentor. Understand whether your organisation has a competency matrix in place for your role, which should highlight what steps are needed to progress to the next level. Talk them through with your Boss and agree on objectives, and what support you need from your Boss/organisation in order to achieve them.
On feedback: If there are things about the way you behave or present yourself that are holding you back from getting that promotion, then you need someone who’s going to be really honest with you
Ask for feedback – and ask those who you know will be brutally honest. If there are things about the way you behave or present yourself that are holding you back from getting that promotion, then you need someone who’s going to be really honest with you about them, otherwise you will never have the opportunity to do something about it.
… and now, a note from Shelagh. Readers not familiar with some of the people and resources Kim referenced may be interested in checking the following links. To explore a range of resources recommended by readers, click here for Exceptional EA’s Resources Page or click here to see all professional associations and networks recommended by peers.